Human skin color can vary a lot. Not only does it vary between people of different backgrounds, but it can change based on sun exposure. Skin color differences are primarily due to melanin, produced by cells called melanocytes. Melanin is important because it helps regulate pigmentation and helps prevent skin disorders like cancer. Melanin can also affect organs other than skin, such as your eyes.
Read more: What You Need to Know About Melanoma
Melanin is the primary regulator of how much solar radiation penetrates your skin. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Photochemical Photobiology, melanin has a range of protective effects. It's able to protect against sun-induced skin cancer and has antioxidant properties.
Notably, there are different types of melanin. Eumelanin is the protective dark pigment, while pheomelanin is a yellow-red pigment that can be tied to mutations and cancer.
Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes. This can be a complex process, since many different vitamins and environmental factors can influence the amount of melanin produced by these cells. However, this means that certain dietary changes and supplements can help naturally increase melanin, too.
Vitamins and Minerals for Melanin
Several nutrients can help support your body’s production of melanin. These include, in addition to vitamin D, vitamin B9 and vitamin B12:
- Copper — one of the nine minerals considered essential for human nutrition. Copper has a variety of positive effects on the skin. In particular, it helps produce collagen, elastin and melanin.
- Tyrosine — an amino acid that is the precursor to melanin. This means that the tyrosine found in food or dietary supplements will directly influence how much melanin your body is able to produce. Tyrosine's other functions include helping the body produce various neurotransmitters essential for day-to-day functions.
Even if you want to increase your melanin production, it’s important not to have too much, just as it's important not to have too little.
Tanning Tablets and Suntan Pills
There are many types of tanning tablets and suntan pills on the market for those with fair skin and those who want to increase their amount of melanin. These products might seem like the easiest way to increase your levels of melanin, since manufacturers claim that they can help people tan without being exposed to the sun.
While suntan pills contain color additives that might indeed change your skin color, they typically have no effect on your melanin. Indeed, according to the American Cancer Society, no tanning pills have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and these products may even be unsafe.
Other products, like bronzers and self-tanning lotions, can darken skin and provide some protection from ultraviolet radiation. However, this differs from product to product. Any protection provided is usually minimal.
Eventually, protective melanin supplements may become available, though. A 2017 study in the Journal of Central Science showed that research is making strides in the production of artificial melanin that can be used in supplements and creams.
Read more: The Truth About Tanning
- The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Skin Color
- Frontiers in Physiology: Role of Vitamin C in Skin Diseases
- Endocrinology: Skin Under the Sun: When Melanin Pigment Meets Vitamin D
- NIH: PubChem: Tyrosine
- Archives of Dermatological Research: Ascorbic Acid Increases the Activity and Synthesis of Tyrosinase in B16F10 Cells Through Activation of p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase
- American Cancer Society: Tanning Pills and Other Tanning Products
- Chemical & Engineering News: Artificial Melanin Gets Into the Skin